Friday, November 30, 2007

Musings: The Bottom Line

It’s been a few days since the moon and stars were visible during my morning walk, but they were today, at least for a while, although clouds streaming up from the south slowly obscured the overhead moon. To the northeast, the sky showed streaks of blue and gold, but otherwise, was the color of a bruise.

More rain is coming — in fact, it’s dripping off the eaves right now — and that’s good news for anybody who is growing stuff — except, of course, flower-laden pakalolo. But that is not a plant found among the kalo, kale and lemon grass in my backyard garden.

I’m working on an article about agriculture, and it’s got me thinking about the likelihood of Hawaii being able to feed itself.

We know it’s possible, because it’s been done before, both by the kanaka maoli and following Western contact, when agriculture, not tourism, dominated the economy. Hawaii definitely has the physical components — fertile land, water and sunshine — to produce large quantities of food year-round.

And even though I hear that people don’t want to work the land anymore, I don’t buy it. I think there’s tremendous interest among folks of all ages, including the youth. But why get all excited about it when tenant farming is rapidly becoming the only real option?

As land prices continue to escalate, and the big private landowners raise rents and shorten lease terms, it becomes unattractive to invest tremendous sweat equity into a farming venture that could suddenly end in a couple of years when your lease is terminated. And that’s if you manage to get a lease in the first place.

With food security finally becoming a topic of discussion under the Hawaii 2050 sustainability plan, the state needs to be taking giant steps forward to open up more public lands for long-term farming ventures, including ag parks that offer housing.

It’s also time to crack down hard on the shibai “ag subdivisions” that are turning thousands of acres of good farmland across the state into rolling lawns around a manor house owned frequently by someone who lives somewhere else.

A case in point is the recently approved 2,000-acre Kealanani “ag subdivision,” which lies between Anahola and Kealia, across the highway from oceanfront Kealia Kai, another high-end “ag subdivision” that apparently isn’t selling well.

The developers got it through the county planning commission and state Land Use Commission by claiming it would be a true agricultural subdivision, with covenants requiring the owners to actually grow something, or lease it out to others if they didn’t want to dirty their hands themselves.

But with the CPR lots priced at $500,000 to $2.5 million, it didn’t seem too likely, at least to me, that many bonafide farmers, or even aspiring ones, would be making it through escrow.

With approvals secured, the developers are now making clear their true intentions — scoring big bucks — by running advertisements for Kealanani in that favored publication of farmers, the Wall Street Journal.

Just how much profit is possible speculating in Kauai ag land? Well, about this time last year, Kauai Realtor Paul Kyno, who partnered with San Francisco developer Peter Lynch to make their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow dreams come true, told me that total project costs at Kealanani were estimated at about $120 million — with sales projected at $200 million.

“The bottom line is, people will be farming,” Kyno told me, and the rules governing the subdivision “will be very strict,” with the homeowners association empowered to levy fines against people who don’t comply.

It sounds good, and I want to believe, but somehow, I don’t think farming is the true bottom line at Kealanani, or the many “ag subdivisions” just like it across the state.

13 comments:

gadfly said...

Although desiring many acres of good farmland for the state is commendable, it doesn't bring in the tax revenue that high-end subdivisions would generate.

With the state always crying "no money" for school infrastructure as well as all other public infrastructure and social services, it seems doubtful that they will choose "home grown food" over tax revenue.

After all, we're not large enough to have both...we're not WI, IA, KS, etc.

Given HI population growth projections, I just don't see total food sustainability as a probable future.

Here on the Big Island, the state is predicting Puna district to grow larger than both Hilo districts combined ("welcome to the gayborhood" is the catch phrase of choice over there).

Can't forget thsoe well-heeled baby boomers retiring at 66,000/month...they want more than NV, AZ, FL, etc for their sunset years.

Larry said...

One day, sitting at the old Manoa coffeeshop in Manoa Marketplace taking my time over a latte, I had a daydream that bulldozers moved in and were breaking up the asphalt parking lot so that a huge garden could be planted.

(sigh)

gadfly said...

When living in the Chicago burbs and driving into WI on biz, I loved entering into those rolling hills of green farmland.

Lest I be accused of wanting all of HI to be paved over, which I certainly do not, I'm still waiting to hear exactly how the various plans put forth will actually be executed.

Not just "what should happen" but "how are you going to make it happen", in today's economic/political/legal/wealth inequity world.

Sell it to me...make it real...otherwise, it's just pie-in-the-sky wishing. If that's all it is in the real world of "might makes right" and "greed is good" that doesn't appear to be changing any time soon, then I'll just stand on the sidelines, observe and make profitable choices for me and mine.

Maybe you passionate bloggers should run for gov and lege positions, then be in positions to make it happen. Think you'd get the votes on that platform? I don't think so.

Joan said...

Well, gadfly, maybe you could help by offering some insights into how one gets through to folks like you who believe greed is good and make all their decisions based upon what is best for them and theirs. Because personal consciouness is where real change has to start.

Aaron Stene said...

Joan, unless Hawaii can magically diversify our economy away from being overly dependent on real estate and construction, Hawaii will not have
any chance in hell being sustainable.

The fact of the matter is these ag subdivisions bring in much needed jobs and tax revenue. If you can think of anything suitable that could
make us less dependent on real estate and construction, I'm all ears.

Joan said...

Well, Aaron, Hawaii could start by dramatically increasing development impact fees (as CA and other states did decades ago) so that when construction does occur, it generates a lot more $ to pay for things we need, so we aren't so dependent on property taxes for infrastructure. Then, as I mentioned, the state could support initiatives like ag parks and other ventures that help get people on the land where they can contribute to the economy and our local food supplies. If we keep giving up our ag land to gentleman's estates, we'll lose not only that economic diversification option, but the chance to become more food and fuel self-sufficient. And the developers and ag land speculators will keep laughing all the way to the bank.

Aaron Stene said...

That sort of addressed my comment. But not really mostly. There was a
PBN article recently that stated
that Real Estate was one of Hawaii's
largest industries.

Until Hawaii weans itself from having to depend on selling land to support its economy here, Hawaii will never be self sufficient.

Impact fees can be a double edged sword. It will would help mitigate
the impacts from these large developments. But it will also make
it more expensive for the first time home buyers here.

gadfly said...

If you're relying on a majority swing in "personal consciousness", then all is lost to you.

If in the world we live in "The Man" makes and remakes the rules, your "Plan B" ought to figure how to become "The Man".

Anonymous said...

But most of us don't want to be "The Man," because we love being "we the people." And "we the people" will continue to stand up and organize for a more just world. Sorry you chose not to join us.

Anonymous said...

To make a profit farming ,you have to be big. Even fifty years ago farms in that rolling verdant green land between Chicago and Wisconsin were 1000 acre ventures. Dad managed a hobby farm for a Chicago judge. But we did grow everything we ate. Mom bought very few essentials. Now the profitable farms are probable 2000 acres and selling their GMO corn for ethanol production cause they can not sell it in foreign markets. (thought that was interesting). Then there are the mega faceless agra giants like Cargill here, there and everywhere. They claim Brazil will be feeding the world in three years and they very well may be if congress mandates even more ethanol production.

I think local produce is expanding though. It's all at my local independent market. And so is local beef , chicken , fish, pork, and good bread. Strawberries and mushrooms too. There is wonderful soil here at this elevation and I hope our local council has the sense to somehow zone much of that land ag only...no more fue fue houses. That unpinappled soil should be treated as a state treasure. But in relity they just keep approving more golf course developments. DUMB!

gadfly said...

So, "you the people" are standing up for a "more just world".

How's that been working out for you?....I thought so.

Justice is an illusion. There are just winners and losers. We cannot "all just get along", ever.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure there are others here who will agree that it's working out well - while we are a long way from the just society we may envision, the journey toward it consistently brings us closer to our friends, families and communities. In that, we are reaping tremendous gains. But I can see that those who have sacrificed deep human connections for the pursuit of money don't understand that, and probably never will. Parallel universes, I guess.

gadfly said...

Parallel universes, indeed. I'd agree with that. But this metaphor isn't bound by physical laws, so both "universes" exist in the same physical reality.

Guess which one is on top and running the place?